Standing before the veterans’ mural at the Newtown Municipal Center on August 19 was Alison Forger, who told a brief story about veteran Eugene Struzik, “rhymes with music,” she said. A Monroe resident and daughter of Newtown VFW Post 308 men’s auxiliary member Walter Forger, Alison entered the VFW’s annual essay scholarship program and won this year’s scholarship award. Her essay was about Mr Struzik, “the 95-year-old man” who shook her hand in church after mass, she wrote. The scholarship recognizes patriotism and academics. The gathering last week was to formally present Alison with her scholarship award.
Alison is a Masuk High School graduate, and last week as he greeted her, Post Commander James P. Rebman had said, “It’s great to have a Monroe member’s daughter win.” Newtown’s VFW welcomes members from area towns including Monroe, Redding, and Brookfield, among others.
With a small group gathered Tuesday, including First Selectman Pat Llodra, Monroe First Selectman Stephen J. Vavrek, Commander Rebman, and member Jay Gill, among others, Alison read her story aloud. As a preface, she explained that when talking with Mr Struzik, she wrote down “everything he said, knowing I would not use everything, but I wanted to remember.”
In her essay, she talks about the friendship her family formed with Mr Struzik, and the man’s impressions on her.
“Everything he did was so powerful to me,” she wrote. From the way he carried himself “even as he got too weak to use his canes and we had to push him into church in a wheelchair … it was the way he showed me his [late] wife’s room when my mom and I visited … it was the way he got angry when his nephew called him to say that he needed to move into a nursing home …” she wrote.
Her story talks about the gentler way her mother talked to Mr Struzik about a nursing home, and the way he “reluctantly listened.” Alison said she got frustrated too when “people in the nursing home he chose tried to treat him like a helpless old man; he was stronger than they knew.”
Often telling stories from his youth and the time he spent in the military, Alison wrote, “He was a young man … until he passed away.” Mr Struzik died about one year ago, and although “his legs, then the rest of his body may have failed him,” Alison wrote that “his mind remained as vibrant and youthful as ever.”
Knowing him had taught her “compassion, respect, and the importance of having people to care for and who care about you in your life. He taught me the strength of a veteran and the courage of a man who put everything on the line to serve his country. To me, all veterans seem to embody the courage, pride, and character that Gene Struzik showed me. Someday, I will write the rest of his stories. I needed to hear them, and so does the rest of the world.”
Alison’s mother, Beth, and sister Lauren stood with Alison and the town and VFW officials as Alison received her scholarship award and recognition.